Shibu Onsen, Japan 2018
The bigger this image is printed, the more powerful it is. On a phone, it looks like an average photograph and in a magazine, it will be a little better. But as a big print it has a real sense of place – it smacks of quintessential rural Japan in the winter. The light snow fall enhances the image as much as the snow on the young monkey’s face. Meanwhile the abstract contours of the waterfall behind add to a surreal winter wonderland scene. In my preconception, I needed snow fall and on the day, it went our way.
There is a slight paradox in the ecosystem in which the snow monkeys congregate in that it looks other worldly, extreme and distant and yet it is actually so accessible. Grab a bullet train from Tokyo and door to door it is only a three-hour journey – including the climb from the entrance to the park. That means that there is no shortage of visitors on a daily basis and, as each hour passes the serenity is increasingly lost. On a weekend, as many as 500 visitors will make the trip – not ideal for my kind of photography.
The solution is to stay locally and hope that overnight snow will deter or delay other photographers or tourists. The early bird catches the worm for sure. On this occasion we were most certainly the first up the mountain and there had been six inches of snow overnight. That was perfect. There had been about a foot of snow and the route up the hill was closed due to avalanche danger.
Working in a snowfall is a fine trick – it adds that necessary narrative, but a blizzard is too much to see through if the subject to camera distance is more than a couple of feet. With the storm finally petered out, the snowfall around 9.30 am became more gentle and this allowed me to work from about 10 feet away and give as much context as possible.
The snow monkey looks determined and in control – despite being dwarfed by his surroundings – it seemed apposite to call him Shackleton. His positioning at that moment in time was perfect.
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